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Online Business Success Demands Flexible Thinking

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Success with an online business requires flexibility to survive and thrive beyond the five-year lifespan of most businesses.

In the 1980s, Compuserve was the dominant online business in access and content. It eventually failed. Then came Prodigy, which shot up and later fell into oblivion.

America Online replaced Prodigy and dominated dial up online access and content for a number of years. Now it’s largely a name and a shell of a company.

Yahoo! dominated online search until Google came along and replaced it. Yahoo! is now in decline; Verizon bought out the company.

Thousands of other companies have come and gone in the online business environment. The public thinks and hears a lot about the big dominant players of today such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. But history shows their dominance is unlikely to last forever.

How does a company outlast the five-year average as well as its competition?

Flexibility is Key

Successful online companies of all sizes don’t follow rigid rules during their entire lifespan. They change with the environment because the environment constantly changes.

Google never stayed rigidly focused on search. For example, it didn’t invent YouTube. It bought the company from the founders because it saw a future in online video. Nor did Google invent social media or pay per click advertising. It built its own social media platform and bought the Urchin Software company to build Google Analytics and DoubleClick for ad delivery.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other companies stay flexible within their own cultures and organizations. They also stay flexible with their outlook of the industry. When they see a change in the wind that looks promising, they create their own version of it or buy it from someone else.

Small companies do the same. The original goals of my online business that has lasted more than 10 years in a hotly competitive environment have largely been met. But it’s the tactics about pricing, product and promotion that evolved over time with the changing environment and customer needs.

That flexibility even reached into my schedule. Eventually, it became clear that my schedule couldn’t be any more rigid than my business tactics. I ended up making myself available to my clients on nights, weekends, holidays and vacations if necessary. But it didn’t mean I had to work more hours. If I worked 10 hours on a Sunday, I might end up working only two hours on a Monday.

Yes, that kind of flexible work schedule isn’t appealing to some people. But more and more it is becoming a reality of work in this world. I see people on vacation all the time who work while they are there.

The old-fashioned 9 to 5 is long gone for anyone who wants to achieve more.

The Flexible Work Ethic

This flexible work ethic isn’t limited to the times and days of the week when someone does what is necessary. Despite my own experience, it applies to the number of hours people have to work for success in an online business.

Marissa Mayer, the former Yahoo! CEO and Google executive, famously said she could work up to 130 hours a week including all nighters. She also had an interesting quote about her husband’s co-working office.

“If you go in on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you which startups will succeed, without even knowing what they do,” she claimed. “Being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success, mostly because these companies don’t just happen. They happen because of really hard work.”

Fortunately, I chose not to work 130 hours a week — the equivalent of more than three people working 40 hours a week — for modest success in my online business. I chose to have a life and spend time with my family. That’s flexibility too.

So online business success depends in part on flexibility with strategy, tactics, clients, environment and work ethic. But it doesn’t have to mean working yourself to death.

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